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7th Circuit rules in favor of attorneys in failed business investment

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A group of investors suing attorneys who worked on the establishment of two business entities – which later failed – were unable to show the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that the attorneys owed the investors any legal duty.

The federal appellate court upheld summary judgment in favor of Beau Jack White and James Beaman and their firm Johnson Beaman Bratch Beal and White LLP on the investors’ claims of RICO violations, conversion, securities fraud, civil conspiracy and legal malpractice.

Real estate investor Chad Seybold hired White and Beaman to help him create two business entities, one of which would be partially owned by a group of investors. At a seminar with potential investors, White explained the concept of limited individual liability afforded by an LLC structure. Seybold told the potential investors that White represented one of the new companies being formed, he’s looking out for the investors’ best interests, and White is working for Seybold and the investors. White never clarified or corrected Seybold’s statements that he was not the attorney for the investors.

Investors sank more than $1 million in Seybold’s plan; about a year later he informed investors he was filing for bankruptcy and that their investments were gone.

The plaintiffs alleged that they each established an attorney-client relationship with the defendants, and even if they didn’t, the defendants still owed them a duty under the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct, most especially Rule 4.3 laying out a lawyer’s responsibility when dealing with unrepresented persons.

The only attorney-client relationship formed was with the two businesses, the 7th Circuit ruled, rejecting the investors’ claim that White’s presentation at the seminar implied existence of the attorney-client relationship with each investor. The judges also didn’t think Seybold’s comments during White’s presentation implied an attorney-client relationship with investors. They also rejected the claims that a duty was implied under the Rules of Professional Conduct.

“Further, several plaintiffs’ subjective beliefs demonstrate that they understood that the defendants were acting on behalf of the investors as a group, not individually, and that the defendants’ involvement in the investment plan did not last beyond the companies’ formation. And the disclaimer included in the operating agreement that each investor signed should have alerted a reasonable investor that the defendants were not representing them in their personal capacities,” Judge Daniel Manion wrote.

The 7th Circuit also found the investors couldn’t rely on the statements made at the seminar to support their securities fraud or actual fraud claims.

“We need not address the merits of each independent tort … because the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the defendants acted in concert with Seybold to commit any unlawful act, or that they accomplished a lawful purpose through unlawful means,” Manion wrote.



 

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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

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